In her 33rd season of guiding the Harvard-Radcliffe heavyweight crews in 2018-19, The Friends of Radcliffe Rowing Head Coach for Women's Heavyweight Crew Liz O'Leary has brought the Black and White to the pinnacle of women's collegiate rowing, and made Radcliffe a perennial contender for national championships.
The recent run of excellence--her 2003 team captured the NCAA title, and her 2005 varsity followed that up with a bronze-medal finish--makes this one of the most successful eras of an already-proud tradition of Black and White crews.
O'Leary has led Radcliffe to the NCAA regatta for three of the last six years and 17 times during the 21-year history of the event. Radcliffe earned a varsity eight bid in 1997 and then team berths in eight-straight seasons and again in 2007, '08, '09, '11, '12, '13, '14 and '15.
O'Leary was appointed to her position at Harvard-Radcliffe in 1986 and enjoyed immediate success by leading the first varsity to Eastern Sprints titles in 1987 and 1989. That success has continued throughout her tenure with over 200 dual wins, top-finishing crews at Sprints, and appearances at national championships.
In 1997, O'Leary's varsity qualified for the inaugural NCAA Championships, winning the petite final to place seventh in the event. O'Leary's Radcliffe heavyweights have qualified for the NCAA Championships regatta 13 times in the 15-year history of the event, 12 times as a team and once as a varsity eight.
The 2003 campaign was the pinnacle, however. Radcliffe was the toast of the town at Sprints, where they captured both the first varsity title as well as the Willing Team Points trophy, and at the NCAA Championships, where Radcliffe won the first varsity eight and team national titles. For her efforts with the Black and White, O'Leary was named the 2003 CRCA Division I Coach of the Year.
After a ninth-place varsity finish in 2004, the 2005 incarnation had a brilliant week of rowing in Sacramento, and edged hard-charging crews at the finish to take home a bronze medal, historically the second-highest finish for the program at the regatta.
In 2012, O'Leary added a new piece of hardware to the Radcliffe trophy case, as her crew won the inaugural Ivy League Championship regatta. The win at Ivies along with a 13th-place finish at the NCAA Championships helped O'Leary earn the 2012 New England Regional Coach of the Year award, her second such honor.
The Black and White returned to the NCAA regatta again in 2013 and finished 11th as a team, including an eighth-place showing by the varsity eight. In 2014, Radcliffe placed third in the Ivy League and finished 13th at the NCAA Championship. Radcliffe won the Eastern Sprints in 2015, ranked fourth at the Ivy Championships and placed 14th in the highly-competitive NCAA field. In 2019, Radcliffe returned to the NCAA regatta, placing 14th overall.
O'Leary owns an impressive 206-117 dual-racing record and has guided Radcliffe to winning marks in 13 of the last 16 seasons.
Fourteen (14) of O'Leary's Radcliffe athletes have competed on U.S. World Championship and Olympic teams. Most recently, Olivia Coffey '11 won a World Championship with the U.S. in the 4- in the summer of 2013 and will participate again in 2014. Esther Lofgren '08-09 won gold with the U.S. women's eight at the 2011 World Rowing Championships and the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Lofgren was accompanied by Caryn Davies '05 in the gold medal winning boat during the 2012 Olympics.
Michelle Guerette '02 and Davies '05 rowed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2008 Games in Beijing. Davies earned a silver medal as part of the eight in 2004. Davies, a member of the 2003 NCAA championship boat, then returned to Harvard after her Olympic experience to help pull the Black and White to the bronze at the 2005 NCAA regatta. She went on to take gold with the U.S. eight in Beijing, where Guerette won the bronze in the single.
In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Davies rowed with fellow Harvard graduate Esther Lofgren '08-'09 in the United States' women's eight. The crew took gold after completing the course in 6:10.59 for a nearly two-second win.
A 1976 graduate of the University of New Hampshire, O'Leary brings a wealth of international rowing and coaching experience to Radcliffe. A member of the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Teams, she also competed for the U.S. on six World Championship Teams, medaling in three of them. O'Leary has coached the 1988 Olympic Team as well as seven World Championship teams from 1985 through 1997.
Prior to Harvard, O'Leary coached at UNH, and subsequently was the head coach of girls' crew at Brooks School in North Andover, Mass. In 1994, she was inducted into the UNH Hall of Fame. The O'Leary Cup, named in her honor, is presented annually to the winner of Radcliffe's annual race against Dartmouth and Syracuse.